The NBA regular season, at least for the teams that hold visions of championships, is just an 82-session practice for the playoffs. So rather than worry about who is the unofficial “best” or “worst” team in the League right now, let’s look at which team is most equipped for the truly important games.
In other words: Who is the last team you’d want to see in a seven-game series to decide it all? In this case, the last shall be first in the rankings. Rankings from worst to first…
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30. Orlando Magic â€“ 15-41
Last week; 30, –
The Magic’s return for J.J. Redick may not have included a first-round pick, but Tobias Harris may prove to be as good as one. His potential along with the expiring contract of Beno Udrih are decent value for Redick, who was sure to leave in the summer.
29. Charlotte Bobcats â€“ 13-43
Last week; 28, -1
My favorite trade at the deadline was Hakim Warrick for Josh McRoberts. There has never been a more equal, more meaningless trade in the history of professional sports. That’s a fact.
28. Sacramento Kings â€“ 19-38
Last week; 27, -1
In last week’s rankings I sympathized with the Sacramento fanbase and said, “Maybe at some point Thomas Robinson could play more than 16 minutes per game?” Well, instead of taking my advice the Kings traded Robinson to the Rockets for Patrick Patterson and some expiring contracts. Pray for Sacramento fans everywhere.
27. Phoenix Suns â€“ 18-39
Last week; 29, +2
The Suns moved up two spots in the rankings this week solely because of that glare that Lindsay Hunter gave Michael Beasley after he shot an air ball. Perfect.
26. New Orleans Hornets â€“ 20-37
Last week; 26, –
After a nice little run since the return of Eric Gordon, the Hornets had a tough 1-3 week. Improved play from Austin Rivers would certainly help, but it’s become questionable if he’ll ever be able to play above the level he’s at now.
25. Washington Wizards â€“ 17-37
Last week; 24, -1
With the Wizards finally at full health, the next few months will be our first chance to see if this John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene core will be playoff caliber or just worthy of the lottery.
24. Minnesota Timberwolves â€“ 20-33
Last week; 25, +1
Staying healthy for a week would be an accomplishment for these Wolves who haven’t beaten a team with a winning record since January. But hey, as long as Ricky Rubio is still smiling, so am I.
23. Detroit Pistons â€“ 22-36
Last week; 23, –
This team became a whole lot less fun to watch once Andre Drummond hit the injury list. In addition to the team’s embarrassing showing in back-to-back games against the Pacers and it’s clear that it has been a tough couple of weeks for Detroit fans.
22. Cleveland Cavaliers â€“ 18-38
Last week; 21, -1
Oh man. The league will need to watch out once Kyrie Irving gets some talent around him. He continues to impress each week and it seems clear that he will continue to improve for years to come. I’m excited. But the current Cavaliers? Yuck.
21. Philadelphia 76ers â€“ 22-32
Last week; 22, +1
Andrew Bynum‘s hair reached new levels this week, and in my rankings, that’s good enough for a one-spot rise. Do not judge my criteria!
20. Milwaukee Bucks â€“ 26-28
Last week; 16, -4
Yikes. The Bucks held late leads in all three of their games last week and they quickly squandered the lead in all three games. Add to that disappointment with the win-now trade for J.J. Redick and it makes one wonder if the Bucks have any goal beyond being the eighth seed this year. Thankfully LARRY SANDERS! is back from injury and continues to be incredible.
19. Dallas Mavericks â€“ 25-30
Last week; 20, +1
Mark Cuban should have probably waited until after Sunday’s game against the Lakers to make negative comments about Kobe Bryant. Never aggravate the Mamba.
18. Toronto Raptors â€“ 23-33
Last week; 19, +1
Another nice week from the Raptors has them sitting only four games behind the struggling Bucks for the eighth seed. It’s still a longshot, but they’re in a position that’s a hell of a lot more interesting than they were in a month ago.
17. Portland Trail Blazers â€“ 26-30
Last week; 17, –
The Blazers’ playoff chances are quickly slipping away and another bad week this week may completely eliminate those chances. There’s always next year.
16. LA Lakers â€“ 28-29
Last week; 18, +2
Quick! The Lakers are only two-and-a-half games out of the eighth seed! Get the confetti ready!
15. Boston Celtics â€“ 29-27
Last week; 15, –
You know who would really help the Celtics make a great, final push into the playoffs? Jordan Crawford! Duh. He’ll get it done! He’s been there before! But with the Bucks’ addition of J.J. Redick, it may be tough for the Celtics to avoid a terrifying first-round matchup with the Heat.
14. Atlanta Hawks â€“ 31-23
Last week; 14, –
Although the Hawks reportedly came close to trading Josh Smith to the Bucks, in the end, they held onto J-Smoove in hopes of a playoff run this season. While it would have been nice to get some return for Smith, who becomes a free agent this summer, holding on to him instead of adding Monta Ellis seems like a wise decision.
13. Utah Jazz â€“ 31-25
Last week; 13, –
A solid win at home against Golden State helped the Jazz stay in control of the seventh seed. But with no action at the trade deadline, it may be difficult for them to hold on to that position with the surging Rockets and Lakers closely behind them.
12. Houston Rockets â€“ 31-27
Last week; 12, –
The loss of Patrick Patterson will hurt the Rockets the rest of this season. But you can’t blame GM Daryl Morey for taking advantage of the cost-cutting Sacramento Kings and adding Thomas Robinson. Oh, the power of cap space.
Golden State Warriors â€“ 33-23
Last week; 10, -1
At this point, none of us should be surprised when Andrew Bogut goes back onto an injury list. But with his back acting up again, the hopes of watching a finally healthy Warriors team have been diminished.
10. Chicago Bulls â€“ 32-24
Last week; 8, -2
This team is beginning to look tired. After a deadline that saw them not add any pieces, this could be the beginning of a tough few weeks for the Bulls before the possible late-season return of Derrick Rose.
9. Brooklyn Nets â€“ 33-24
Last week; 11, –
Two comeback wins against the Bucks and the return of Big Shot Joe Johnson made this a nice week for the Nets. But with no team biting on their Kris Humphries/MarShon Brooks package at the deadline, the active Nets couldn’t get any deals done. The whole “not having movable assets” problem will be a long-term difficulty for the Nets.
8. Denver Nuggets â€“ 35-22
Last week; 6, -2
Although the Wizards have definitely improved since finally becoming healthy, a loss to Washington is still bad enough to cause a drop in the rankings. Those are games that the Nuggets need to win if they hope to avoid a first-round matchup with one of the undisputed top-three teams in the West.
7. Memphis Grizzlies â€“ 37-18
Last week; 9, +2
A nice, simple week against the bottom-dwellers in the East helped the Grizzlies rise in the rankings. But their improved ball movement and the return of classic Zach Randolph are making Memphis seem again like potential playoff noise-makers.
6. New York Knicks â€“ 33-20
Last week; 5, -1
A winless week is not an ideal way to come off the All-Star break. And with a tough month that includes games against the Heat, the Thunder, the Clippers, the Nuggets and two against the Warriors, this could prove to be a true test for the currently untested Knicks.
5. Indiana Pacers â€“ 35-21
Last week; 7, +2
A 3-0 week along with the long-awaited return of Danny Granger are enough reasons for the Pacers to rise in the rankings. If Granger can quickly find his place alongside the player who supplanted him, Paul George, then the Pacers could be a real threat come playoff time.
4. Los Angeles Clippers – 40-18
Last week; 4, –
Smartly, the Clippers decided not to trade Eric Bledsoe and mess with their bench unit. Now with their roster in place, the Clippers can focus on getting healthy and hopefully allowing Chris Paul some periods of rest from now until the playoffs.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – 41-15
Last week; 3, –
No addition of an athletic big man at the deadline means that the Thunder will continue to have difficulty matching up with the Heat if they again meet in the Finals. That disappointment, along with the stomping that James Harden (46 points) put on them, helped make the past couple of weeks impressively frustrating for a second seed in the West.
2. San Antonio Spurs â€“ 45-13
Last week; 1, -1
I was going to leave the Spurs in the first spot until they did something to warrant a drop. And while a loss to the Warriors is nothing to be ashamed of, a loss in the fashion that the Spurs performed it is all the reason I needed for them to lose their throne.
1. Miami Heat â€“ 40-14
Last week; 2, +1
The Heat are back in the first spot and I’d surprised if they drop anytime soon. LeBron James is a robot and his team isn’t even close to reaching their full potential. Once Ray Allen finds his shot and the defense comes around, this team will be even scarier.
What team had the best week?
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